Fresno's Helm House honored for restoration work

The Fresno BeeJuly 14, 2014 

What used to be perhaps the sorriest-looking house in Fresno is now the toast of California.

The Helm Home on the north edge of downtown has received a California Preservation Foundation award in the restoration category, City Hall said on Monday.

The San Francisco-based foundation is a nonprofit that for nearly 40 years has worked to protect the state's diverse cultural heritage and historic places.

"We thought we were going to lose this historic property," said Karana Hattersley-Drayton, Fresno's historic preservation project manager. "That we didn't is due to a lot of folks who said no, we're not going to lose this."

Scott Vincent, the Fresno preservation architect who directed the restoration project, said the Helm Home's rebirth sends a message about Fresno to preservationists across the state.

"It's nice to say, 'We do good things, too,'" Vincent said.

The house is owned by the Fresno Housing Authority. Chief Executive Preston Prince said the agency is thrilled to receive the award.

"The restoration of this historic home is about reinvestment and renewal," Prince said. "But more than that, it's about serving the needs of the community."

The Helm Home at 1749 L St.was built in 1901 by William Helm, a successful Valley sheep rancher, for his son Frank. The house was designed by the McDougall brothers, well-known architects in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The house is known locally as the Alamo house for its mission revival design.

The Helm Home fell on hard times. It was a boarding house. Then it was vacant. Time, the elements and vandals did their worst.

One By One Leadership, a faith-based social services organization, bought the house about a decade ago with visions of turning it into something useful. A shortage of money killed that dream.

The Housing Authority bought the house several years ago. The local historic preservation community rallied to the cause.

"The first thing I did was get people crazy enough to walk on that second floor before we had shored it up," Vincent said.

Experts thought it would cost $1 million just to stabilize the two-story house's exterior. Vincent said the job was done for about $250,000, with another $325,000 spent on a parking lot, a small building in back and modernizing the interior for office use.

The tenants are First 5 Fresno County, the Youth Leadership Institute, the Center for Multicultural Cooperation and The Children's Movement.

Historic preservation teaches a valuable lesson, Vincent said.

"To know where you're going," he said, "you have to know where you've come from."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or or @GeorgeHostetter on Twitter.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service